China in the Media: Effects on American Opinion

Thumbnail Image
Degree type
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Graduate group
Political communication
Public opinion
Political Science
Grant number
Copyright date
Related resources

I explore how the tone of media coverage affects opinions of foreign countries by studying a particular case: the People’s Republic of China. I exploit the fact that recent presidential campaigns have focused a great deal of attention on China. Indeed, before the 2012 presidential election, media coverage of China was particularly high and largely negative due to campaign rhetoric about how China was stealing American jobs and ruining the U.S. economy. Using a nationally representative, pre- and post- election panel, I explore how these changes in media valence affect opinions of China. I use an original content analysis of mentions of China on U.S. political television to examine whether changes in the way the country is depicted in the media lead individuals to change their opinions of it. Results indicate that media valence does affect opinion; the increase in negatively-valenced coverage of China in advance of the U.S. presidential election increased the degree to which individuals perceived China to be a threat. I also find that an increase in positively-valenced coverage of China increases perceived threat from China. I also use an original survey experiment to offer causal evidence that negativelyvalenced media about foreign countries negatively affects opinions toward those countries—and their citizens. Here, I focus on political advertisements, examining whether exposure to presidential ads, aired as part of the 2012 campaign, cause individuals to have more unfavorable opinions of both China and Chinese people. I also test whether these ads cause people to discriminate against Chinese citizens and Asians, more generally. Results indicate that negatively-valenced media about a country causes people to perceive it as more threatening and to view it—and the people dwelling in it—less favorably. I also find that it causes people to discriminate against Chinese and Asians on an individual level (rather than broadly as a group), evaluating Chinese and Asian college applicants less positively. These studies highlight the power that media can have on American opinion of foreign countries and show how negatively-valenced media used during the course of ordinary campaigning can affect discrimination and Sino-U.S. relations.

Diana C. Mutz
Date of degree
Date Range for Data Collection (Start Date)
Date Range for Data Collection (End Date)
Digital Object Identifier
Series name and number
Volume number
Issue number
Publisher DOI
Journal Issue
Recommended citation